How do I choose a topic for the qualifier?

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  • Thread starter mt42
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  • #1
mt42
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Hi everyone,

I believe this is the right board for this question, but feel free to move the thread if it's not.

How do I go about choosing what to study for the qual? This is something that's been on my mind for a while, and now my advisor wants me to send him some ideas for the next few weeks. To clarify because I know the system is different at different schools, I basically have to conduct some research over the summer, write a paper, and present for a committee.

Anyway, the idea of choosing a topic is giving me some anxiety because it's my first real leap from put-your-head-down-and-do-this to choosing my own research path (which I know is an important skill!).

As of now, especially because of the quarantine, I am doing as much reading as possible. However, I don't really have anything that comes to mind for a qual topic since I still feel so un-knowledgeable about condensed matter physics (for what it's worth, my group focuses on thin films, especially transition metal oxides). My reading has led me to take an interest in frustrated systems and topological systems, but I know these are still quite broad topics.

So I guess my question could be restated as: how do I explore a subject with an eye for producing my own research?
 

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  • #2
berkeman
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How do I go about choosing what to study for the qual?
What Qual?
 
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  • #3
Dishsoap
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Should the topic be something that you intend to continue pursuing after the summer is over, or something that you'd like to learn more about that you wouldn't otherwise encounter?
 
  • #4
mt42
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What Qual?

Basically, how do I go about choosing a topic to research over the summer and present in front of a committee in the fall? I'm a first year grad student and I've never had to choose what to research before.

Should the topic be something that you intend to continue pursuing after the summer is over, or something that you'd like to learn more about that you wouldn't otherwise encounter?

Good question, from what I've heard from senior grad students in the department, some have turned it into much larger projects, and others have more or less moved on from it. I think it should be something that gets me more familiar with the techniques in our lab (I'm an experimentalist) and just the research process in general within my subfield. Plus I think it's a good opportunity for me to see if I do truly have an interest in frustrated systems, for example, to the point where I'd want to dive deeper after the qualifier. My advisor always says that now is the time to sample everything and find what I love (e.g. what techniques I like to use) so we can tailor my grad school experience to that.
 
  • #5
Dr_Nate
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What techniques does your lab use?
 
  • #6
mt42
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What techniques does your lab use?

We do both growth (PLD) and characterization (PPMS, ARPES, EELS, XRD, XPS, AFM) of thin films in-house. We also go to national labs for spectroscopy, but I'm assuming that'll be difficult in the near future.

I do want to learn more about PPMS because that is a versatile technique, and I know how to mount the sample. It also seems easier to understand your results there compared to, say, ARPES. Maybe I can make transport measurements a central focus of my summer research.
 
  • #7
Dr_Nate
Science Advisor
251
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We do both growth (PLD) and characterization (PPMS, ARPES, EELS, XRD, XPS, AFM) of thin films in-house. We also go to national labs for spectroscopy, but I'm assuming that'll be difficult in the near future.

I do want to learn more about PPMS because that is a versatile technique, and I know how to mount the sample. It also seems easier to understand your results there compared to, say, ARPES. Maybe I can make transport measurements a central focus of my summer research.
You have many techniques that are very complementary to each other. The interpretation of the results from all your PPMS measurements are going to be dependent on the models you use. The simple models that are commonly used take up an entire solid-state physics course. If I were your advisor, I'd say that a paper on that would lack focus.

My experience is that many physicists are not that skilled at interpreting electronic band structure diagrams. It's even worse in the magnetism community. Knowledge of ARPES and EELS are two good techniques that could help you make this a strength.
 
  • #8
mt42
9
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You have many techniques that are very complementary to each other. The interpretation of the results from all your PPMS measurements are going to be dependent on the models you use. The simple models that are commonly used take up an entire solid-state physics course. If I were your advisor, I'd say that a paper on that would lack focus.

My experience is that many physicists are not that skilled at interpreting electronic band structure diagrams. It's even worse in the magnetism community. Knowledge of ARPES and EELS are two good techniques that could help you make this a strength.

Thank you, this is good for me to keep in mind. So once I find a system I want to study, I should use all I can in the lab to my advantage to create a coherent paper.
 

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